I woke up way too early the other morning with a vision of a unicorn. Waking up early is not unusual for me but the unicorn thing is. That’s the domain of my 9 year old niece. I’d read about yet another small Franconian brewery closure before going to bed. Already tired, I’d thought it was Einhorn or unicorn. On waking up, I’d connected the rare imaginary creature to the increasingly rare Franconian brewery. COVID Killed the Unicorn Bar danced in my head but I also saw a red squirrel in the dreamy mix. When looking at photos over a tea, there it was; a red squirrel on a mug with Eichhorn below it. Yes, it was Eichhorn or squirrel, not unicorn, thus killing my title.
the squirrel & the Eichhorn
Sadly, such closures are becoming increasingly more common. Just as we perhaps emerge from the COVID dark cloud, many are finding their breaking point has been reached. Forchheim’s smallest brewery, Eichhorn was one of them. Founded in 1783, the Greif family took it over in 1935 and brought the Eichhorn name with them as they’d previously run a restaurant Zum Eichhorn in town. Modernized after WWII and reopened in 1954, it was in its third Greif generation when the unfortunate decision was made.COVID restrictions on gastronomy, two cancelled Annafests and increased prices on fuel and ingredients were sited as reasons for the closure but in the end it was perhaps the age of the owners and lack of desire on their heirs to take it over as much as anything.
Annafest in Forchheim is a big part of the economy
We first visited the Eichhorn in 2002 and found it the coziest of the four breweries in Forchheim. Though we’d been in town over the years, timing for a return never seemed to work out. It wasn’t until 2020, ironically after the first bout of COVID, that we finally made it back. Their Schäuferla and beer were fantastic and we made sure to return every time we were in town after that. It proved harder than it should have been, finding it shuttered on a couple of occasions, despite during regular opening hours.
a return to the lovely Eichhorn
We discovered a lovely little Biergarten out back and the tenants of the pub, who are not the brewery owners, finally took to us and we felt welcomed on all our visits. Though Forchheim has four breweries, two have no food and the third has a limited menu. The town has more eating options than many of its size but we like to eat at breweries and part of the reason to go to Forchheim is to drink the local beer. Disappointingly, you generally don’t see the four town breweries’ beers at other restaurants.
the charming Biergarten out back
I decided to make a last pilgrimage the other day as I’d heard they were going to run the pub until the brewery’s surplus of beer was used up. Despite a bunch of Deutsche Bahn delays, I waltzed into a surprisingly busy mid-week lunchtime crowd. I guess many locals are trying to have what they soon won’t be able to, as well. After what has become the second nature checking of my vaccination status via an App on my phone, I was cordially seated. I was beyond relieved when my host confirmed Eichhorn beer was still flowing. It took a while to pour but out it came sans gassy bubbles and a lovely head atop. Though Vollbier is a generic term stylistically for a brewery’s full strength beer, I am often asked the difference between it and a Helles to which there is no straightforward answer. If you want to taste the difference, this beer illustrates it well.
a great Vollbier in the cozy Eichhorn
Though I’d envisioned having their noted Schäuferla one more time, the train dilemmas had left me with less time than I need to attack what their menu heralds as the national dish of Franconia. I opted for Schweinekammbraten, roast pork from the tender neck of the pig. The sauces at the Eichhorn are amongst the best I’ve had in Franconia and this pork was smothered in an incredibly tasty one. I asked for a Dunkles to go with it and was lightly reprimanded that it was a Braunes. I saw her go through a few mugs to ensure I got one with the Eichhorn logo. I was happy to see the squirrel once again on my table. One sip of their Acchörnla and her correction was appreciated more. This is nothing like a southern Bavarian Dunkles. It’s much drier. It’s one of the reasons I venture up to Franconia so often.
Acchörnla & Schweinekammbraten
I sat, soaking in the bustling atmosphere. There was a large table of mostly guys in their late 20s eating the Franconian national dish and washing it down with Vollbier. Another smaller group of older men were doing pretty much the same. It was hard to imagine that a place this busy on a Thursday couldn’t make it. After the groups left, I walked around to take some last photos of a place that not only couldn’t make it but wouldn’t be there possibly as early as my next trip to Forchheim.
some last images of the Eichhorn
Back at my table, I enjoyed the remainder of what was likely my last taste of this lovely Braunes. Sadly knowing that even if this pub survives in some other form, it’s very likely this beer will not. The owners of the brewery, while surely unhappy about this earlier than planned closure sound resigned and ready to move onto the next phase of their lives. They are nearing retirement age anyway. We often ask if the glass is half full or half empty and I guess they would say half full. I stared down at my glass and it was neither. It was nearly empty. Unicorns are rare creatures as are beers like this. I never expected a unicorn in Forchheim but I’d hoped to see the squirrel forever. Perhaps I have more of my niece in me than I thought.
the last Acchörnla?
There are still many great breweries in Franconia. Please get out there and support them.
Heading to Bamberg. Don’t leave home without The Pocket Guide to Bamberg’s Best Beer.